By Billy Donati and Marty Mayfield
ALBUQUERQUE —The Cliff Cowboys showed why they are one of the best teams in any class by taking their second consecutive state title with a 56-45 win over Springer on Saturday morning, March 13 at the New Mexico Class A Boys State Basketball championships in Albuquerque’s University of New Mexico Arena.
Cliff is a defending state champion and, with several players well over six feet, used their height advantage inside to pound the boards on both sides of the court and stay ahead of the Springer Red Devils for most of the game. Yet, it wasn’t a runaway game, despite Springer being down over 20 points in the third quarter.
Springer opened the scoring with a lay-up by Isaiah Garcia. Cliff returned the favor, and the first quarter went along with lead changes and ties. However, Cliff’s height advantage started to show as shots were made close in and above any Springer blocking hands. Estevan Romero found his range early, sinking two threes, leaving Springer trailing by only five at the end of the first.
The second quarter was the turning point, as Cliff outscored the Red Devils 17-8. Garcia got in foul trouble early and was missing for most of the first half. He went into halftime with four fouls putting Springer in a tight position as Garcia usually scores in double digits. Springer played with determination and spirit for coach Jimmy Apodaca, hustling and scratching for every loose ball. Even so, they found themselves down 21 to start the fourth quarter due, in very large part, to Cliff’s 6’9” Holt Shelley. Shelley is being courted by several colleges and his performance in the championship game only enhanced his image. He pulled down 19 rebounds and poured in 19 points to help the Cowboys earn their fifth state title since 2008.
While Cliff continued to extend their lead in the third quarter, Springer countered with a full court press that began to work as the game moved into the fourth. Springer rallied and mounted a comeback in the final eight minutes and, had two or three shots fallen earlier or the quarter gone on much longer, it could have made for an even tighter game.
Springer outscored Cliff 15-5 in the fourth but, as the final buzzer sounded, Cliff pulled in Coach Brian Shock’ second consecutive title, following in the footsteps of his father, Coach Pete Shock who garnered 10 title trophies and over 800 career wins. Cliff has had five state titles in the last nine years.
Springer’s Coach Apodaca was happy with his team as they stuck together and supported each other on this quest. He noted they are a close bunch, as close as a family.
Romero of Springer said playing in the expansive cavern of“The Pit” was awesome, and a little intimidating. He, Garcia, and Apodaca all look forward to next year’s season.
Springer will graduate only one senior this year, Adrian Urquijo, while Cliff will graduate four of their starting five, so don’t be surprised to see Springer back in the title game again next year.
Springer’s point men were Estevan Romero at 22, Jacob Quintana (8), Damien Blaubach (5), Isaiah Garcia (5), Ryan Gallegos (3), Zac Caldwell (2). The team had a 26% 3-pt record, a 39% field goal percentage and 2 of 8 free throws attempts.
Cliff’s high points came from Holt Shelley (19), Jace Jenkins (10), and Heath Henderson (9). They made 8 of 11 free throw attempts.